A new report from the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending lays out some quality reforms that would help pare down Michigan’s vast criminal system. Many of the ideas would save taxpayer money and are commonsense reforms that will not endanger the public. In total, the report estimates that Michigan could reduce its prison population by around 10,000 and save $250 million annually.
CAPPS notes that Michigan spends about $2 billion on its Department of Corrections — skyrocketing from 1.6 percent of the General Fund budget in 1973 to 20 percent today. Much of this spending is warranted — nobody wants violent criminals out on the street — but a significant chunk could be better allocated with a few reforms.
The report recommends reducing the intake of prisoners, changing minimum sentencing guidelines, increasing some paroles and shifting mentally and/or physically disabled prisoners to other, specialized facilities, along with other ideas.
CAPPS argues that the state can reduce the intake of prisoners by imposing different penalties for low-level offenders, such as retail fraud, parole violators, etc. Michigan can also better standardize its criminal code with other states, which spend less money for fewer prisoners with no higher crime rates.
A 2012 Pew Center on the States study found that Michigan has one of the longest average lengths of stay for prisoners and longer criminal sentences in general. In a detailed analysis of Michigan nonviolent criminals released in 2004, the study estimated that 24 percent of these prisoners could have served shorter sentences without compromising public safety. This is consistent with other research evidence, according to the new CAPPS study: “Researchers can make no connection between increased length of stay and recidivism.” Michigan may be spending more money to lock people up for longer periods for no observable benefit to the public.
The Mackinac Center is a proud partner in the overall Right on Crime movement, calling for commonsense criminal justice reforms that will reduce the cost of this vital government service and protect the legal rights of Michigan residents. Center experts have urged the Legislature to consider other changes to the criminal justice system in Michigan. In particular, the state should re-examine its overwhelmingly complex penal code and establish more robust legal protections for innocent citizens by eliminating civil asset forfeiture.
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